(Heather with her beautiful family)
On November 21, 2005, I was diagnosed with a deadly cancer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. I was suddenly swept into a vortex of anxiety, despair and confusion. At the time of my diagnosis, my one and only baby was 3-1/2 months old. My love for Lily fortified my determination to not only face this cancer, but overcome it as well.
My hope came in the form of one of the world’s leading mesothelioma doctors, Dr. David Sugarbaker at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s hospital. His knowledge and care gave me hope in the face of grim statistics. This hope fueled my strength and determination to overcome this cancer. Over the next year, I used every ounce of strength I had to fight tremendous odds.
First, I had major surgery to remove my left lung along with the pleural lining where the tumor was growing. Then, chemotherapy and radiation followed for the next few months. All this took place in Boston – 1,900 miles away from my six-month old daughter.
Devoted family and friends helped me along the way. While I was in Boston for surgery, my parents took care of Lily. During the months I spent sick from the chemotherapy and radiation, support of friends and family kept Lily none the wiser.
When it was time to celebrate Lily’s first year of life, friends and family celebrated not only her birthday, but my new life as well. Just one month shy of the first anniversary of my diagnosis, I finished my last radiation treatment vowing to remain cancer free. That year of battling cancer and the subsequent years since then have taught me many things.
I delight in small things like Lily’s laughter, puppy breath or a rainbow after a rain shower. All of these are small reminders that life is here to be lived. Even during days when things aren’t the best they could be, I find something to be grateful for, and I think of the amazing people I met along my journey ‒ people whose names are carved on my heart forever.
Mesothelioma cancer is more than just a daytime television commercial. Real people have fought and lost this battle. Real people take care of loved ones day after painful day. Real people continue to fight with the tenacity and passion of fierce warriors.
In their battle, they inspire others. It is for these heroes that I want to raise awareness for mesothelioma.